AUSTRALIA has the opportunity to become a globally competitive agricultural technology leader, but industry experts say it will take changing the way we think about the industry.
Speaking at the Australian Farm Institute Digital Futures conference this year, food systems innovation expert, AgThentic, chief executive officer and founder, Sarah Nolet said she was excited by the global competitive advantage Australia had in agriculture.
“I think we have a highly productive and export orientated industry,” she said.
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“We have proximity to Asia, where demand is growing, a clean and green reputation and some seriously innovative farmers with continued productivity growth.
“All this in the second lowest subsidised industry and some seriously tough conditions, including drought, soils and climate.”
However, Ms Nolet said it was key the industry also developed a global competitive advantage when it came to agtech.
“We have to make this transition,” she said.
“I think we can do it, because we have to, this world is changing faster then ever, this industry is changing faster then ever, so I’m not sure we have a choice.”
Ms Nolet said AgThentics mission is to introduce new technology and entrepreneurs to agriculture to solve critical challenges, to help bring more profitability to the farm, to increase sustainability for the industry and natural resources and to help rejuvenate regional communities.
“I think technology and entrepreneurs can do this and are already doing this in agriculture,” she said.
Ms Nolet said there was a unique opportunity at the moment to capitalise on Australia’s existing strengths in agricultural production and leverage them into agtech.
I think technology and entrepreneurs can do this and are already doing this in agriculture
She said growing demand for food, different demand for food amid constraints and natural resource pressures are well recognised across the industry, but what is different today is the pressure it is putting on the income of large firms.
“They are looking hard for different solutions from outsiders,” she said.
“We see this in the food industry in the United States, where the top 25 leading companies have lost $18 billion in market share.
“There is serious pressure on the way things have worked, and a serious momentum to do things differently.”
Ms Nolet said another change was the ability to access new technologies.
“It used to be in agriculture only the big corporates had the power to invest in the research and development,” she said.
“But now technology is coming fast and it is more accessible, we have gene editing kits in high schools.
“Everyone can build their own internet of things (ioT), we don’t have to invest in servers, we can use the cloud.
“That is bringing in new firms, who aren’t incumbents, and can work faster with these new technologies.”
Ms Nolet said new capital investment was also driving innovation right now.
“Over $1 billion was invested just in 2017 alone,” she said.
“It isn’t only agricultural incumbents, it is venture capitalists and technology companies from all over the world.
Ms Nolet said bringing people and investment from outside of agriculture brought a new perspective.
“They are out to fundamentally change the industry for the better,” she said.
“They want to see how we produce our food done better, they want to our farmers to have more data to make better decisions.”
Ms Nolett said as Australia already had strengths in science and innovation and it was more a question of how to transition, than why.
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“It doesn’t have to be technology versus agriculture, it doesn’t have to be machines versus humans, it doesn’t have to be a bleak picture,” she said.
Moving from Ag to AgTech
Ms Nolett said she had four principles on what needed to occur to grow agtech in Australia, the creation of new founding entrepreneurs, experts and teams to support the entrepreneurs, a customer focus and remaining distinctly Australian.
“Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the agtech ecosystem,” she said.
“We turn our talent into founders, it is not a conventional pathway but it is one we need to embrace.
“We need champions and experts backing them and collaborating with them.
“We need to make sure the problems we are solving are real problems that are creating real opportunities.
“Let’s not be Silicon Valley, lets be Australia as we transition from competitive in agriculture to competitive in agtech.
“We have to build and leverage, we don’t have this concentration of entrepreneurs and investors in one place.
“We need more producer led innovation.”
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